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Lenné Estate: 2008s are Best Ever

After this year’s IPNC, I made my annual trip to the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley and met up with winegrower Steve Lutz at Lenné Estate. Steve has a special south-facing site on low vigor sedimentary and volcanic soils in a good neighborhood just east of the town of Yamhill that also includes WillaKenzie Estate, Shea Vineyard, Soléna and Grand Cru Estates, Soter and Beaux Freres. I discovered Steve’s excellent Pinot Noirs beginning with the 2006 vintage and have been a fan ever since.

Steve and a group of investors began dense planting of Pinot Noir clones 115 and 777 and Pommard in their 20.9-acre vineyard in 2001 and launched Lenné Estate wines in 2002. Establishing the vineyard presented many challenges in part due to the steepness of the site and Steve’s insistence on dry farming, but he has persevered. Clones 114 and 667 were added in 2004-2005.

The name, Lenné, pronounced “Lenay,” is a French adaptation of the name of Steve’s father-in-law, Len, who raised his family, including Steve’s spouse, Karen, on a chicken farm west of London, England. Len passed away in 1999, but he contributed part of the down payment on the vineyard, so it seemed only right to honor him. The Lenné Estate value bottling, Le Nez, features a side portrait of Len’s schnoz on the label and a silhouette of him appears on the Lenné Estate label. The first two vintages of Pinot Noir were released under the Le Nez label and the Lenné Estate label was added in 2006. The wines under the Lenné Estate label represent the best barrels from the vineyard in each vintage. Some clones stand out in certain vintages and they are bottled as clone-designated Lenné Estate Pinot Noirs.

Lenné Estate wines are produced in collaboration with noted Oregon vintner, David O’Reilly. Some grapes are sold to O’Reilly’s own label, Owen Roe, but more are being retained for the Lenné estate wines. Production in 2008 was 1,300 cases. The wines are largely sold through a mailing list and at the quaint hilltop tasting room which is open on weekends or by appointment (503-956-2256). I tasted through the 2008 Lenné Pinot Noirs while sitting on the scenic tasting room deck (see photo below), as well as a few weeks later at my home.

Steve told me the wines will not be drinking well until mid to late fall which is typical of many 2008 Oregon Pinot Noirs. The 2008 growing season was ideal at Lenné Estate, with perfect fruit set resulting in small, thick skinned berries. Cool weather prevailed with no rain. The resulting alcohols are all 14.0% at most. Steve finds consistent flavors of wild cherries, pomegranate, and mocha from his vineyard. The 2009 vintage will be more approachable early but will not be as long lived. I enjoyed tasting the wines now, but agree that the aromas and flavors are slow to come around, the impressive tannin structures need time to mellow, and the wines are best left in the cellar for another 6 to 12 months. All wines are unfined and unfiltered.

The 2008 Le Nez Pinot Noir and 2008 Lenné Estate Sad Jack have been released and the remainder of the lineup will be offered by September 1, 2010.

2008 Le Nez Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $30. All clones in the vineyard but primarily 777. The “infant” wine of Lenné Estate that is the most accessible wine in the 2008 lineup. · Expressive aromas of black cherries, berries and herbal tea. Tasty core of cherry and berry fruit of moderate intensity with a lovely touch of spice. Soft and elegant with pillowy tannins. Can drink now but will be even better in a year. Very good (-).

2008 Lenné Estate Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 496 cases, $45. The best barrels of clones 115 and Pommard. · A panoply of different red and black fruit aromas including cherries, strawberries, and red currants with an underpinning of smoky oak. Flat out delicious array of pristine fruit including black raspberries and cherries. Lovely accents of loamy earth and mocha. Highly persistent aromatic finish. A seamless wine that is pure class in the glass.

2008 Lenné Estate Jill’s 115 Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 49 cases, $55. This wine has been very popular with tasters. · Shy but pleasing scents of red berries, cherries, pine pitch, wildflowers and mocha. Soft and smooth on the palate with notes of raspberries, strawberries, edible flowers and mocha java. A feminine Pinot that seduces with elegance. Doesn’t make a big flavor impression now but will improve with more time in the cellar. Very good.

2008 Lenné Estate Karen’s Pommard Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 49 cases, $55. · The nose really grabs your attention with aromas of pie cherries, wild berries, wooded forest, oak and cut flowers. Vivid black cherry fruit which is soft and luscious on the palate, persisting on the amazingly lengthy finish leaving a refreshing impression from lively acidity. Still has tannin to shed and the big gulp of fruit is reticent and linear at this stage, but this is a very polished wine that will be spectacular down the line.

2008 Lenné Estate Sad Jack 777 Yamhill-Carlton District Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 49 cases, $55. Clone 777 does best in cool sites and 2008 was a very cool vintage so this clone really shined and some was bottled separately. Named after the two winery dogs, Sadie and Jack. · Restrained aromas of berry jam, rhubarb and rose petals. Similar in flavor profile to the Le Nez with more dazzling cherry, pomegranate and anise notes. Juicy and delicious, but not particularly expressive now, showing plenty of sinewy ripe tannins that need to integrate. Very good (+).

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